The double murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman is an unspeakable happening which it is beyond the ability of the vast majority of people to understand. The deepest sympathy must be expressed to the parents of these two children, to others who were close to them, and to the whole community of Soham which has been afflicted by this tragedy.

At the same time, however, it is unfortunately necessary to respond to the blatant opportunism of the News of the World in using the events in Soham as a platform to re–launch its campaign for the “naming and shaming” of paedophiles. This campaign was an outcome of the abduction and murder two years ago of eight–year–old Sarah Payne by a man with a record of offences against children. Under what the newspaper calls “Sarah's Law” parents would have the right of access to police information about predatory child–sex abusers living in their area. In a leading article on Sunday the News of the World first asked, in a headline, “Who's next, Mr Blunkett?” and then blamed the police for opposing its proposed law: “Top brass cops insisted the public could not be trusted with details of child–sex offenders. Outrageously, the government was cowed by pressure from these arrogant know–alls. The result was that frightened families were denied the heart of Sarah's Law”.

The first thing to be said in response is that, at this moment, there are no grounds for drawing any parallel between the cases of the Soham children and Sarah Payne. These may or may not emerge but the News of the World should not make the connection until there are established grounds for doing so. More generally, the main arguments advanced against Sarah's Law when it was first promoted remain valid today: if paedophiles knew that their existence in a particular area was public knowledge many would simply disappear from sight and the task of the police in keeping an eye on them would be made much more difficult; and, as was shown in Portsmouth two years ago, knowledge or assumed knowledge of the presence of paedophiles can lead to vigilantism which can easily get out of hand. There are thought to be some two hundred names on the police list of possible child–sex offenders in the Cambridge area – what would have happened during the past two week if their names and addresses had been known?

The shameless and irresponsible nature of the News of the World's campaign is caught in this paragraph: “Our campaign has massive support from parents, police and probation officers. Only the government ignores your voice and insists that you should have no idea who the perverts are.” But both before and since the Sarah Payne case the government has introduced new legislation to strengthen public safeguards in this area while avoiding the serious disadvantages that would follow from the newspaper's proposals. There is simply no way of making protection of children 100 per cent; the News of the World knows this and should stop pretending that the truth is otherwise.

Ray Fleming